The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

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I loved reading The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein (thoughts here), mostly for its beautiful and flowing language, so I thought I’d next pick up The Hobbit, which is a children’s story and takes place chronologically before The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it. I found the story tedious and the writing stilted.

The Story

Bilbo Baggins is not any special Hobbit. He likes to stay in his hobbit hole and eat breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then one day, Gandalf appears at his door and tells him he’s going on an adventure: Bilbo is to be the burglar for a team of dwarves. He is to help rob a cave full of jewels from a ferocious dragon!

Somehow Bilbo begins this adventure, against his will. Before he knows it, Hobbiton is far behind him and he meets elves and men and goblins and spiders. His life will never be the same!

I struggle with adventure stories. I feel like the main characters do foolish things to get into trouble and then conveniently they are rescued, only to get into trouble in the next chapter. But for those who are looking for adventure, The Hobbit is full of it! The crew is attacked by trolls, surprised by goblins, caught in a spider’s net, and otherwise in Grave Peril on a regular basis. Bilbo even becomes the one who rescues the dwarves on many occasions. This is a story of heroes in an amazing fantasy world.

Question for those who have read The Hobbit (SPOILER; highlight to read): Why did Bilbo betray Thorin by taking the jewel to the waiting army? That just seemed so sneaky and wrong and I really disliked him. Also, why was Gandalf a part of a robbery anyway? Doesn’t he have better things to do? Why encourage Bilbo to be a robber? I just don’t understand the significance of it all, and I wondered why I was cheering for these people. At least in The Lord of the Rings (as I watched in the movies) the general fight is against the wicked Eye. We could tell that was bad.

The Writing

In some respects, the writing of The Hobbit reminded me of The Wind in the Willows: there were moments of beautiful writing, and yet overall, it felt a bit too stiff and formal. That said, I still liked it much better than The Wind in the Willows (which I reviewed here).

I made the mistake of reading all of The Hobbit aloud to my son, which for me made it all the longer as I stumbled over awkward phrasings and long-winded sentences. I wonder if the 1930s text is “awkward” for children, but it may just be my unfamiliarity with fantasy stories that made it all the harder for me.

The Bottom Line

The Hobbit is about a young underdog coming to the rescue – time and time again. The Hobbit is about adventure. The Hobbit is a fantasy in which the good guys win. I highly suggest reading The Hobbit if you are a child. My husband read it in third grade and loved it; he doesn’t recall it being awkward reading. Others throughout the blogosphere have mentioned fond memories of reading The Hobbit as a child.

As an adult, it seriously did not do anything for me; I was bored.

Now I’m really not excited to read The Lord of the Rings, although I’m still determined to do it someday.

One final note: I read a copy with beautiful color illustrations by Alan Lee. I highly recommend that version!

What about you? Did you like reading The Hobbit? What age were you when you (first) read it? Was the writing style awkward to you as a child?

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed The Hobbit on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on March 25, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I don’t remember when I read The Hobbit, I think maybe it was after reading The Lord of the Rings series. But I didn’t like it that much. I remember trying to read it to my kids, but we only made it to the big spider part (?) I do love the series though, but it’s not for everybody.

  • This is one of those rare cases where the sequel is MUCH better than the first book. The Lord of the Rings is written for adults not children.

  • I haven’t read any Tolkein, but this one is on my list for my 9 in ’09 challenge this year. I’m not really looking forward to it. My son loved it when he read it two years ago (age 6) and my husband loves it – he also read it as a kid. I wonder about that significance.

  • Lezlie, Shelley, Paula, glad to hear that LofTR is better than The Hobbit! Maybe I won’t dread it so much. Shelley, the big spider part would have scared me as a kid (I’ve always hated spiders) and I almost quit then!

    Amanda, I’m thinking this is a book for children. I wish I didn’t read it out loud. Maybe I would have liked it better…

  • I’ve actually read this book twice for school, if you can believe it. First time was when I was about 9 years old, and I read it as an independent study in fourth grade (I was an advanced reader, even then)… and then I was all smug at having read it at 9, when I had to read it again at 15 in grade 10. I guess it was ok, though I only remember about two plot points from it (I am drawing a complete blank on all that spoiler stuff), and afterwards I was kind of anti-LoTR. I did start to read LoTR, and made it through The Two Towers… and then I stopped because I realized I hated almost all of the characters, or at the very least was apathetic towards them, and I didn’t care how any of it turned out. The same thing happened with me and the movies – I saw the first two and then was so bored out of my skull that I vowed to never watch the third one.

  • Christina and Steph, Wow, I’m glad I’m not the only who hated it, but why on earth are so many people reading this in school?! There are books that are so much better; I don’t understand.

    I couldn’t stand the movies the first time I tried them. Then one weekend my husband and I were both sick and he was home from work and he wanted to watch them all. So we did. In about three or four days. It was fun then (not being sick; watching the movies together). I never would have tried watching them again if not for my husband.

  • I read that exact same edition when I was in about third or fourth grade! Loved the illustrations; wasn’t too excited about the book. Funnily enough, I’m a huge fan of J R R Tolkien and of Lord of the Rings. Like Steph, the characters don’t interest me, but I love how epic and gargantuan and well-planned out everything is. I’m such an escapist; any book where I can get lost in another world is fine by me 😀

  • I’m one of those who read this as a child (age 7) and loved it. I read parts of it again in the 5th grade for school. However, when I tried to read it as an adult, I just couldn’t get back into it. The same goes for ToLR – better for me as a child than as an adult. But I’m glad you read it – that’s an accomplishment for sure!

  • tuesday, I also loved the illustration. And I’m determined to read LofTR simply because like you say, it’s really an incredibly well-planned epic. I’m hoping I enjoy LofTR better, but I guess adventure just isn’t for me!

    Heather J., it’s too bad everyone seems to say it’s better to read as a kid, since I missed that stage! But I’m still going to read it some day.

  • I liked The Hobbit the first time I read it and I think I may have read it a second time but I’m not sure. I read it and the Lord of the Rings shortly before the movies came out.

  • This book is on my summer reading list for a ” Fantasy Reading” class, for next semester. I love reading and I’m extatic about this class. However, I could not get through this book. This sounded like a book I would love. I couldn’t focus at all, I was always dozing off into another thought.

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